The Death Flip is testimony to the continuing appeal of the barroom dare.
When the cocktail first appeared on the menu at the Black Pearl in Melbourne, Australia, in 2010, no ingredients were listed. And if you asked what was in the drink, the bartender would not tell you. The only thing offering the customer a hint as to what they were getting into was the ominous description: “You don’t wanna meet this cocktail in a dark alley.”
Of course, plenty of people stepped up to take the bait, and many ended up liking the cocktail—something that likely wouldn’t have happened if the ingredients were listed: tequila, yellow Chartreuse, Jägermeister and a whole egg. Any of those, alone, would have been enough to make most customers pause. Taken together, the mélange was downright intimidating.
“You know how it is,” says Chris Hysted-Adams, explaining how he came to create the Death Flip. “You’re a young impressionable bartender, so all you like drinking is tequila, Jägermeister and Chartreuse. You also love drinking any cocktails that have tequila, Jägermeister or Chartreuse in them. Chances are, during service, you’re recommending cocktails to your guests with tequila, Jägermeister or Chartreuse in them.”
The problem is, customers rarely enjoy bar world pet spirits as much as bartenders do. Frustrated by the timidity of his clientele, Hysted-Adams doubled down on his preferences and created a drink that included all three spirits. Since he had already chosen the bottles he wanted to use, the weeklong R&D that led to the Death Flip was primarily a matter of balancing the components. As it turned out, adding an egg, a dash of simple syrup and some grated nutmeg as garnish was all it took.
As for the name, the drink is indeed a flip—that is, the 19th-century genre of cocktail that calls for a whole egg. But there is a second meaning. “I’m a skateboarding tragic and the death flip is a badass trick,” says Hysted-Adams. “A drink this badass needed a badass name to go with it.”
The brash drink attracted a crowd quickly. Bartender Nathan Beasley, who worked alongside Hysted-Adams at the Black Pearl at the time, recalls it being popular with everyone from locals and regulars to visitors from other parts of the country and across the globe. One regular came in every Friday and drank a half-dozen Death Flips in succession. (“Must have needed the protein,” quipped Hysted-Adams.)
“It didn’t take long for it to develop a cult following,” says Beasley. “Shortly after, you had bartender acquaintances emailing us, asking for permission to feature it on their cocktail lists. It was crazy. Before you knew it, it was in America, New Zealand, China, Europe.” The drink was featured at such faraway bars as NOLA and Experimental Cocktail Club in London and The Devil’s Advocate in Edinburgh, as well as in several watering holes across Australia, according to Hysted-Adams. After bartender Mika Koivula tried the Death Flip at Black Pearl in 2016, he returned to his native Helsinki and began selling the cocktail at his bar, Liberty or Death.
The press got wind of the Death Flip early on, too. By the end of 2010, it had already been written up in Australian Gourmet Traveller. Australian Bartender magazine also gave it some ink. Simon McGoram, drinks editor at the latter in 2010, became aware of the drink as soon as it hit the menu. “Black Pearl was, and still is, a real breeding ground for great bar talent and creativity,” says McGoram. “Its creator, Chris Hysted[-Adams], and this drink just really encapsulated this.”
American bartender Erick Castro first discovered the drink while on a visit to the United Kingdom. “The odd thing was that its popularity seemed to be created strictly by word-of-mouth,” he recalls. “Loads and loads of bartenders seemed to be enamored with the recipe, but ironically it remained largely a mystery stateside. So naturally, I had to try one for myself to see what all of the fuss was about.” He was so impressed that, when he wrote a story for Eater in 2015 about should-be modern classics, he included the Death Flip.
For Castro, the allure of the drink begins with the name, which makes an immediate impression. “While we all like to pretend that we are not influenced by such things,” he said, “there is a reason why the French 75 is vastly more popular than the Frank’s Refresher.” (The Zombie, another cocktail with a forbidding name that came with a customer warning—only two per sitting—could be considered a historical antecedent.) Beyond that, there is the novelty—at least in the early aughts—of a craft cocktail using the proletarian amaro Jägermeister as an ingredient. Bartender Will Krepop—who hails from Cleveland but worked for several years in Australia, and drank many a Death Flip at the Black Pearl—agrees. “It’s really the inclusion of Jäger which made it jump off the page,” he said.
The brands involved also did their bit to spread the word. Bartender Kara Smith remembers encountering the drink at a 2016 Jägermeister event in Minneapolis. Chartreuse even used the drink in training modules across Australia. Nathan Bradbery, a Chartreuse brand ambassador, went so far as to commission an original Tarantino-esque poster advertising the drink.
Today, the Death Flip is no longer on the menu at Black Pearl; according to bar director Tash Conte, the bar’s bill of fare changes seasonally. But the cocktail nonetheless enjoys a special place in the country’s cocktail pantheon. “With regards to its status, I just have to say that it’s up there with the Penicillin in terms of modern classics by Aussies,” says Amy Spanton, editor at Australian Bartender magazine.
For Hysted-Adams, the rewards of serving the mystery drink that swiftly became his signature cocktail were many. They began with each patron’s initiation into the cocktail’s secrets. “They’d have a sip, and the look on their face was priceless,” recalls Hysted-Adams. “They couldn’t believe that car crash of ingredients tasted so good.”
But more than that, the cocktail granted Hysted-Adams his initial wish, the one that motivated him to invent the potion in the first place. Once customers had braved the Death Flip, they were willing to try other cocktails including the once-intimidating ingredients like Jägermeister, Chartreuse and maraschino.
“Next thing,” he recalls, “they were drinking Bijous, Jägeritas, Tommy’s Margaritas and Last Words.”